About 250 excited, noisy and wide-eyed elementary school youngsters covered the basketball court at Seat Pleasant's Central High School yesterday as two representatives of the World Champion Washington Bullets taught them how to play the game.
For Bullets Phil Walker and Roger Dickens, an aspiring rookie, the morning was full of fun and remembrances of their childhoods.
"I used to be a kid," Walker said, "and I know what it means for them to see us come out here and take time with them. I was from the same type of background in Philly that many of these kids are from. Well, I guess it's like coming home."
Dickens felt much the same way. "Hey, rapping with the kids is beautiful," he said. "After all, the same thing was done for me. I was raised in the deep inner city of Baltimore, and helping these kids just makes my day."
The crowd of youngsters milled around the two players, pushing for autographs. Suddenly, from out of the crowd, an unidentified girl yelled, "Where are the rest of the Bullets"?
Responding in a sofe voice, Walker said, "They just aren't here."
Dickens, a fifth-round draft pick from Towson State, said, "If I get into pro ball the way I want, they'll (youngsters) see me from a wider perspective and I'll be more help to them."
Walker, Dickens and Bullet scout Harold (Red) Gaither explained some of the fundamentals of basketball. At one end of the gym Walker asked, "Who wants to be a professional basketball player one day?" A hundred waving arms swayed in the air to the chant "I do, I do."
When the youngsters were asked about their favorite National Basketball Association player, they shouted the names "Elvin Hayes," "Dr. J," "Dennis Johnson," "Wes Unseld" and "Jabbar."
Walker showed the sitting admirers how to dribble, "You put your body between the defensive player and the ball. Never watch the ball. Watch the entire court. Remember, the ball will always come back up. And above all, never forget that defense is as important as scoring a point."
At the opposite end of the court Dickens showed how to shoot and pass the ball behind the back and spin the ball on one finger.
The basketball passed from youngster to youngster, quickly falling from each one's small finger. Adding encouragement, Dickens assured them the trick was mastered only with much practice.
"And whatever sport you are in," Dickens said, "to play well, you have to listen to directions." The chattering youngsters quickly became silent.
"The only good pass is the completed pass," Gaither said. "Don't throw a pass that will knock your teammate down. Basketball is a team sport. Go back to your playgrounds and help your friends who were not fortunate enough to be here today."
Most of the students at the clinic came from area basketball camps - free of charge for the underprivileged but rather expensive for others.
Kermit Ellis, 26, is a recreation instructor who has been coaching the Palmer Park Recreation Center's basketball team for three years.
"I started this team because most of the kids couldn't afford to go to camp. I teach them the fundamentals, but I stress education most of all," Ellis said.
"They write a paper on a different basketball player every week. I stress education so hard because I was a player once myself and I got hurt, which ended my career. You have to have something to fall back on." Ellis played for Florida A&M, where he received a degree in education.
Bob Johnson has been running a basketball camp for four years at Central High. "It costs $32 every two weeks," Johnson said.
The fee entitles the student to a full day of basketball practice, theory and lunch. His camp is for 6- to 12-year-olds. "There are mostly middle-class blacks in my camp," Johnson said.
After a full morning of fun and instruction, the youths filed out of the gym with basketball and the Bullets on their minds. Kevin Cauthen, a 10th-grader, described most of the youths' feelings when he said, "Yeath, the Bullets deserved to be the champs and they deserve to be next year, too."